Clifford Williams was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a woman in 1976, despite maintaining his innocence and alibis backing his whereabouts at the time of the crime.
Forty-three years after his conviction, Williams, together with his nephew, Nathan Myers, who was also implicated in the crime, were exonerated by the local State Attorney’s Office in 2019. Williams was 76 years at the time of his release.
Albeit wrongfully incarcerated and entitled to a compensation for the over four decades wasted behind bars, a Florida law almost made this impossible due to his prior convictions.
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According to First Coast News, Florida laws allow people who were wrongfully incarcerated to receive $50,000 for each year spent behind bars. This rises to a maximum amount of $2.5 million, which Williams is entitled to. However, those who have prior convictions are not entitled by state laws to receive any compensation.
Williams, who falls in that category and most likely, would not have received any compensation despite his wrongful incarceration, headed to Tallahassee on January 22 in a bid to claim what he is due. An unfortunate situation, the Civil Justice Subcommittee, however, voted unanimously to approve Williams’ compensation the next day. He will also receive a formal apology, First Coast News further reports.
This was after a new claims bill was brought before the Florida Legislature.
“I want to apologize on behalf of the state of Florida. We can never give back your time,” Subcommittee Chair Bob Rommel said.
Known as the “clean hands” rule, a separate bill is set to scrape it off to allow people who were wrongfully incarcerated but have prior convictions to be entitled to compensation.
Williams and Myers were convicted for the murder of Jeannette Williams in 1976. They spent 43 years in jail for shooting Jeanette and her friend, Nina Marshal, in their apartment. Even though they pleaded not guilty, Nina Marshal, the woman who survived the shooting identified them as the shooters and they were convicted of murder and attempted murder.
Their case was reopened and a new line of evidence was introduced. During the previous trial, the survivor identified Williams and Myers as the murderers. At the time of the shooting, Williams and Myers were at a party in Jacksonville, Florida, near the apartment of the victims. Those at the party corroborated this information. However, that was not enough to buy their freedom. They were incarcerated despite their alibi.
A new investigation of their case commenced after Myers wrote to the State Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit in 2017. The unit, in collaboration with Innocence Project revisited the case and found new sets of evidence which were presented in court to discharge the innocently convicted men. The new evidence suggests that the shots came from the window and not from where the survivor claimed earlier, which was the foot of the bed. Also, it was indicated that the shots came from one person.
Although Nina Marshal is dead and so could not be questioned, the evidence found was enough to exonerate them. The judge declared them free on Thursday, March 28, 2019.
The investigation also revealed that a man named Lawson confessed to the crime in 1976 but Williams and Myers were never released despite Lawson’s confession.